By Ron Spomer
Shotgunning turkeys is one of the strangest of shooting challenges because it forces you to shoot a scattergun like it’s a rifle.
In shotgunning for upland birds or waterfowl, we want our smoothbores to deliver a wide, even pattern of small pellets on a ﬂying target. With turkeys, we target the head/neck of a standing (ideally) bird, often at “long” range (45 to 60 yards). This calls for a rifle or some extremely tight pellet patterns.
To get tight with birdshot through a smoothbore, we play around with tighter-than-tight chokes, large shells carrying large payloads (1 1/2 ounces to almost 2 ounces) of No. 6, 5 or 4 shot, hard pellets and various wads and buffering agents. Hard, buffered pellets help tighten patterns by remaining round instead of ﬂattening under recoil. When soft pellets squash against one another during recoil (inertia) they can turn ﬂat. Flat surfaces plane in the air, pushing them far from the direction you want them to go. The harder the pellet, the less it deforms. Buffering agents such as tiny plastic spheres cushion the pellets and thick wads insulate them from steel barrels, so they don’t get scoured ﬂat during their 1,200 fps trip down the tube.
“Tight” shotgun chokes make a huge difference in pattern density, but not predictably. A “full” choke might perform better than an “extra-full” or “turkey” choke with one brand of ammo and barrel, but an “extra extra full turkey” might out-shoot it with another barrel and shell. All a hunter can do is mix and match and test ﬁre until he ﬁnds his ideal.Generally, it pays to start with full chokes and go tighter from there, remembering that ammo plays a huge role.
Over the years, ammunition manufacturers have used all of the above tricks to increase the long-range performance of their turkey loads, and they aren’t done yet.
This year, Winchester’s new Long Beard XR in 3-inch and 3.5-inch 12 gauge promises extra reach via its unique Shot-Lok Technology buffering system. Copper-coated, hard lead pellets are encased in a hardened resin that eliminates air space around them and completely prevents them from moving and rubbing one another. When the shell is ﬁred, the sudden shock makes the resin fragment, turning into thousands of micro-buffers that continue cushioning the pellets as they race down the barrel. Of course, the shot wad prevents them from rubbing the barrel steel, too.
The result, according to Winchester engineers, is up to twice as many pellets in a 10-inch circle out to 60 yards and 10 percent better penetration over standard lead loads beyond 50 yards.
Like I said, we turkey hunters try our best to get riﬂe performance from our shotguns. Shells like this help us do it.